"Just Say No" to Sin?

By Kenneth Berding Aug. 7, 2012 1:08 p.m. Culture, New Testament, Spiritual Formation, Theology

Do you remember the “just say no to drugs” campaign waged a number of years ago?  (The slogan “just say no” continues to be used in schools across the country.)  The assumption of the slogan was that kids could simply say “no” whenever faced with temptation.  Is that true?  Can we simply say “no” whenever we are tempted?

There is a significant difference between a believer and an unbeliever who tries to answer this question.  An unbeliever is utterly stuck in sin.  Granted, the unbeliever can clean up a behavior he views as wrong, but is that really house cleaning?  Such “cleaning” is no more than moving piles from one room to another so the guests can’t see the mess. 

The unbeliever’s attempt to overcome sin reminds me of the children’s arcade game where you have to hit with a huge mallet whatever blue furry head pops up.  The problem with trying to deal with temptation simply by hitting it down is that the moment an unbeliever hits one popping-up head, another pops up behind or in front of him.  The unbeliever simply does not have the means by which to consistently overcome sin because he or she has not been indwelt by the Spirit.

But one who has come into a right relationship with God by receiving God’s gift of grace through faith and who has been indwelt by the Spirit of God has been given whatever is needed to overcome a given temptation (1 Cor 10:13).  “Whatever is needed” is no less than the presence and power of God’s own Spirit!  And this is what we have received if we truly know him (Rom 8:9-11). 

So how should we cooperate with what the Holy Spirit is trying to do to sanctify us?  Galatians 5:16 offers a straightforward answer: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  Walking by the Spirit and carrying out the desires of the flesh are mutually exclusive ideas; you are either walking by the Spirit or carrying out the desires of the flesh.  You can’t do both at the same time.  In short, you need to learn how to walk in the Spirit.

Simply saying “no” to sin is like trying to remove all of the air from a cup by covering it with a plastic lid and trying to suck out the air with a straw.  You can’t get it all out, even if the lid is well sealed—which it isn’t if you are an unbeliever.  But if your goal really is to remove all the air from a cup, fill it up with water and you can be certain that all the air will be out!  (Side note: water is one of many biblical metaphors for the Spirit, John 7:38-39).  If you really want to overcome sin, then learn the pattern of living life in step with the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16; Rom 8:4), being filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), and setting your mind on the things of the Spirit (Rom 8:5-8).  The result of such “walking” will be a realization of the power you need to put to death the deeds of the body by the Spirit (Rom 8:12-13).

There is more to be said about overcoming sin than what I’ve written here, but today I wanted to focus on this one key component.  It is a vital message for a church culture that tends toward simplistic moralism and does not often stress what the Bible accentuates about overcoming sin by walking in step with the Spirit.[1]



[1] For more interaction on overcoming sin by the Holy Spirit, see Kenneth Berding, Walking in the Spirit (Crossway, 2011), chapters 1-3.

 

Comments

  • Matti Aug. 11, 2012 at 2:43 PM

    "Walk in the Spirit".

    That's what we are supposed to do, but how does it look like in practice? How do you actually walk in the Spirit? I have an idea but I want a New Testament scholar to answer. I get the walk part but no the "in the Spirit" part, like Dr. Coe put it somewhere.

  • Ken Berding Aug. 11, 2012 at 3:37 PM

    Matti,

    That's why I wrote the book Walking in the Spirit (Crossway). I would love for you to check it out and read it. That book was written for people who know the Holy Spirit is important but don't know what to do about it. The aim of the book is to help people learn in practice what it means to "walk in the Spirit." May God richly bless you as you walk down this path!

  • Chad Vasquez Aug. 13, 2012 at 8:38 PM

    Matti,

    Dr. Berding's book, "Walking in the Spirit" sheds much light on Paul's directive in Galatians 5. It's a small book, readable too! I read it for a class I took with Berding and it was a blessing. He does a great job unpacking Paul's words and it makes much sense of what it means to walk in the spirit. I recommend reading it!

    In Christ Alone,

    Chad

    Chad

  • Matti Aug. 14, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Thanks, Ken and Chad. I will definitely put the book on my wishlist. The theology of the Spirit is very central to the NT understanding of the Christian life.

  • Rotimi Lucas Aug. 26, 2012 at 8:00 PM

    how does holy spirit interpreat dreams. And must we speak in tongue for us to know we are fill with the power of holygoast

  • Ken Aug. 29, 2012 at 11:52 PM

    All,
    This is a really interesting subject. As noted- that to walk in the spirit you need to be filled with the spirit. Acts 2:1-4 shows the biblical answer as to how we are filled with the Spirit of God. Jesus tells us in John 3:3-8 before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts what it will look and sound like Verse 3:8 The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.
    Jesus told us the there would be a sound following the infilling of the Spirit; the example in the second chapter of Acts confirms this. Looking further into Acts we continually see this example in every instance where people received the Holy Spirit Chapter 8,10,11 Confirmation to chapter 10, 19 Even Paul's own testimony in Acts and statement in the Epistles confirm how and the way we are to know we are filled with the spirit. Walking in the Spirit is then as matter of continuing to pray in the spirit 1 Cor 14 explains more.
    I hope this help clear some things for you all

  • Ken Aug. 29, 2012 at 11:53 PM

    P.S.
    There is some great books on this subject here:
    http://www.shiloahbooks.com/books_Holyspirit.html

  • Ken Berding Oct. 22, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    Thanks, Ken, for your comments.

    (Note to readers: The "Ken" above is not me.)

    We need to be careful when we read narrative material (like Acts) not to assume that what is described in the text becomes normative (that is, required) for everyone, unless, of course, there is reason in the text to think that the author (like Luke in this case) intended it to be normative for his readers. Otherwise, we all start packing our suitcases to get ready to go to Macedonia in obedience to Paul's Macedonian vision (Acts 16:9-10).

    Yes, there was a sound like rushing wind on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Spirit. But this does not mean that the Holy Spirit will act in this way every time he fills someone. There is no evidence from the text that Luke intended his readers to assume that he would do this in every instance.

    Separately, I think that "praying in the Spirit" (so Eph 6:18; Jude 20; cf. Rom 8:26-27) is an aspect of "walking in the Spirit"; they are not co-extensive ideas.

    Thanks again, all of you, for reading and responding on "The Good Book Blog."

  • john reilly Dec. 12, 2012 at 11:19 PM

    Thank you Ken for this article. We so much need this teaching in the church on "Walking in the Spirit". I will go as far to say as anything else is our flesh at work and not pleasing to God. 99% of Christian teaching is performance(self,works,trying) based. I just found your blogs tonight and ordered three of your books.

  • Greg Barrett Sep. 17, 2015 at 3:40 PM

    Moralism has been the curse and bane of the Church in Western culture where the superego kicks in without the well informed ego guiding it with an understanding of how humans function. We need a well informed psychological theology that accurately interprets the bible.

    Such defensive realities like Undoing where a person feels bad about what they have done, trying to escape that feeling of guilt or regret by trying to undo what they have done in a very direct manner is part of the sickness of sin as a condition. "Touch not, taste not, handle not" or just saying no is only but one part of that "causal circumstance" needed to make changes in our lives, to live better lives where we can live up to God's "highest ideals of well being and well doing" for us.

    What is needed is spiritual Juno, not boxing when dealing with our frailties. What is needed is the fruit of the spirit or what Erik Erikson referred to as character strengths as one goes through a process of growth or maturity with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as our essential guide and comforter - ie walking with Him in very practical ways. We need to take in the milk as Spiritual Infants and then move on to the meat as we progress as spiritual toddlers, children, students, adolescence, young adults, and adults. The milk, the steady comfort and meeting of our essential needs from God and our caregivers initiate and sustain this process as we move through the stages of maturity, which thereby enables us to "just say No!"

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